The RBGE is a peaceful family-friendly place to explore.
While there are many parks and gardens in Edinburgh, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, (RBGE) affectionally known as the ‘Botanics’ is both a leading centre for horticultural research and a wonderful place to explore.
Situated in Inverleith, just a few miles north of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, this world-famous botanic garden, which stretches to over 70 acres, has a history dating to the 17th century.
It is the second oldest botanic garden in the UK after the Oxford Botanic Garden established in 1621. Kew Gardens in London was created in 1759.
The Garden’s mission statement is, “to explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.”
The Edinburgh Botanics is for all the family
A visit to Edinburgh’s botanic garden, with its peaceful landscaped grounds and fascinating collections, is not just for adults. With lots of things for children to do, it’s the perfect family day out in Edinburgh.
The garden abounds with wildlife, something the kids will love. Among them are all manner of birds including the magnificent kingfisher, sparrowhawk and grey heron. Butterflies and a variety of creepy crawlies are never far from sight.
The occasional fox might peer out from behind a bush and there are squirrels and badgers too.
But don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a spotted wolf spider.
There are plenty of opportunities, in an assortment of programmes, for the whole family to get their hands dirty. The kids will love it. The Spring Trail is another one for the youngsters.
Foundation of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Physicians Sir Andrew Balfour and Sir Robert Sibbald established the RBGE in 1670 as a physic garden, on a site close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the foot of the Royal Mile.
It grew plants for medical prescriptions and to help teach medical botany to students.
Balfour and Sibbald employed James Sutherland, a self-taught gardener, to manage the Garden
James Sutherland, as it turned out, was a remarkable man, in 1676 he was appointed the Professor of Botany and Materia Medica at the University of Edinburgh.
He became the first Regius Keeper of the Garden in 1699.
While Sibbald, Balfour and Sutherland deserve enormous credit for their work, others should not be forgotten.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: Explorers and plant hunters
Among them are the sometimes overlooked explorers and plant hunters who searched the world for rare and exotic species to send home. Often, they were missionaries, army medics or ships’ doctors. Others were adventurers with a love of the natural world.
Without those brave and dedicated men and women, Scotland’s gardens would be poorer places.
In 1675, the Garden moved from Holyrood to what was the site of Trinity Hospital, now Waverley Station. It moved to its current home in Inverleith in 1820.
Given such an extended pedigree it’s not surprising that the Garden’s history is perfectly entwined with that of the city itself. The siege of Edinburgh Castle in 1689 is testament to that. But you don’t have to dig too deeply to find connections with events and people in wider Scottish historical records.
New physic garden at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
In a nod to the work of Sibbald and Balfour, a new physic garden was established in the Abbey Strand at the foot of the Royal Mile, close to the Palace in 2020.
Among the countless highlights of the RBGE in Edinburgh are:
- The Alpine House with its collection of spring-flowering crocus, iris, snowdrops, and more.
- The Chinese Hillside, complete with a stream, waterfall and a range of plants including the ubiquitous rhododendron.
- The Rock Garden, the highest point of the garden has plants including dwarf rhododendrons snowdrops and crocuses. from North and South America, Japan, South Africa and China.
- The Woodland Garden (Upper & Lower), is home to a group of giant redwoods, planted in the early 20th century some stretching to over 24 metres in height.
- The little grove where the trees stand has been named the John Muir Grove after the Dunbar (near Edinburgh) born conservationist who founded the US National Parks Service.
- The four corners of the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden represent her love of travelling and the ‘four corners of the world’.
- The Biodiversity Garden and the Demonstration Garden to stop and admire and wonder.
Some of the RBGE ‘external ‘work
The Garden is a founding member of World Flora Online, the most comprehensive online catalogue of all known plants.
In addition, Botanics is an important partner, part of a group working to publish the flora of Nepal.
Inverleith House which sits within the garden was designed in the 18th century and initially built for Sir James Rocheid.
Later it functioned as the official residence of successive Regius Keepers.
From 1960 to 1984, it was the home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, now also moved to a new home in Edinburgh.
The House is now an exhibition space dedicated to contemporary art and botanical science. The RBGE plan new regular exhibitions, artists talks and film screenings.
The RBGE Living Collection extends beyond Inverleith’s leafy suburbs.
Under the heading Four Gardens, One Unique Collection there are regional gardens at Dawyck near Peebles in the Scottish Borders, Benmore near Dunoon and Logan near Stranraer.
Day trip from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders
RBGE online courses
The Edinburgh Botanics, as an approved distance learning provider, offers a variety of horticultural, garden history and design and climate change courses. Some are offered as free taster courses
The John Hope Gateway visitor centre (named after John Hope the Regius Keeper of the RBGE from 1761 to 1786) has a range of gifts including seasonal plants and garden accessories.
Food and drink
The ‘Botanics’ has a number of indoor and outdoor venues that serve food and drink. So whether it’s a full meal, snack or just a coffee with friends. The Terrace, overlooking the Inverleith House lawn is a particular favourite.
Edinburgh Botanics at Christmas
For visitors and locals, a visit to the Botanics in December is the perfect opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre and still soak up some Christmas cheer.
With mesmerising displays of twinkling lights and lots of other festivities. Of course, there is always a chance to meet Santa.
ambitious plans for the future.
The Edinburgh Biomes project is designed to protect and refurbish, where necessary, some of the current glasshouses including the spectacular Victorian Palm House.
Current Regius Keeper Simon Milne said, “the Edinburgh Biomes initiative was of enormous significance”.
This news item about the Edinburgh Biomes on the RBGE website gives more details of what is a fascinating project, one which will enhance the visitor experience in years to come.
More information about visiting the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
For further information, including opening hours, accessibility and all the other things the RBGE has to offer please click the button below to be taken to the official website.